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Posts published in “Life in Durham”

Wade Williams, Durham’s activist with art

“VA 2-211-685” is scrawled in black marker across a sheet of paper. Wade H. Williams, artist at his own company Artist at Large, holds up his handiwork to his computer cam. He is sitting in his studio, with a charcoal portrait he’s just finished in the background. He wears large round glasses and a silver earring dangles from his left ear. Above his lip a handlebar mustache is expertly curled at each corner. 

The string of letters and numbers he’s holding up over our Zoom call is the copyright registration number of his painting in downtown Durham, created when Black artists showed their opposition to police violence with an extraordinary collection of murals. The painting, called “Lady Justice/ Black Lives Matter,” depicts a Black Lady Justice wearing a white blindfold and holding the scales of justice. It can be seen on West Chapel Hill Street at Five Points downtown. 

It was opportunistic protest art. “Lady Justice” is one of many works along Main Street and West Chapel Hill Street after local businesses boarded their windows with plywood in response to Durham’s Black Lives Matter protests in June. The wood provided a canvas for Black artists to make statements about racism and the BLM movement.

Wade Williams’s mural “Lady Justice/ Black Lives Matter.” Used by permission.

Williams has much experience with public art, but this hit particularly close to home. His art has highlighted issues of race for many years. 

“I try to give food for thought on the African Diaspora,” he says of his work, which has been displayed across the world, from New York to Philadelphia to Belize. 

Williams was born in Duke Hospital in 1950. He graduated from Hillside High School in 1968 and majored in Fine Arts at St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh. He spent the next 10 years at the Art Students’ League of New York. He studied drawing, oil painting and artistic anatomy (important fundamentals for an artist who cites French Impressionists and Renaissance masters as his influences.) 

In 1989, he decided he was on his way to becoming a professional student — a fate he wanted to avoid — so he sold his studio in New York and moved to an island called Caye Caulker, 45 minutes from Belize City via water taxi. 

“The idea was to unlearn everything I had learned in school,” Williams says. “You want to come out with your own style, your own thing.” 

He went on to hone his style as an artist and educator in Philadelphia, and eventually he returned to Durham in 2006 to help care for his mother and grandmother. He is now a member of the Public Art Committee of the Durham Cultural Advisory Board, a contributor to the Durham Civil Rights Mural Project, and competitor in the Durham Arts Guild 66th Annual Juried Exhibition. 

Willie Bigelow, art curator of the Hayti Heritage Museum in Durham, is a fan of his work and included Williams in the museum’s annual Black History Month Exhibition. Bigelow suggests teachers use his work to educate their art students. “It’s got an European-African flare,” he says. ”It’s superb.”

When I ask Williams about the mural downtown, he stands to find a print to hold up. This is just one of the many times throughout our interview when he will stop for a moment to find a relevant passage to read or show a painting he’s just mentioned. 

“I’ve been an activist in a quiet way, in my own way,” he says. “Either I’d show it through my art or when I was younger I would march or boycott.”

When attending college, he became a member of the Black social fellowship Groove Phi Groove, which continues to do public service around the Triangle. The group’s colors are black and white — just like the Black Lives Matter movement, Williams points out. The Groove Brothers provided water, food, and masks to Black Lives Matter demonstrations and recently raised money to donate masks and gloves to Durham neighborhoods with fewer resources. 

“At the age I am now I really can’t go out in the street and walk those miles, but I support them,” Williams says of the protesters. That’s why he created “Lady Justice/Black Lives Matter.”

“Someone brought it to my attention that they were doing murals, and naturally I wanted to be a part of that,” he says. He searches through his desk to find a picture of “Weeds Habitat,”  his first mural, painted in New Rochelle, New York, which shows leaves and rainforest painted in shades of green and blue. Since then, he has often used murals to bring art to a wide audience. 

“In every part of Philadelphia there’s a mural with my name on it,” Williams says of his time there, where he was assigned to “areas that angels would not go.” He tried to portray himself as a role model to the students he worked with. His low-key style has earned respect.

His mixed media portrait of Miles Davis. Used by permission

“He is quiet, but when he has something to say, people really listen to him because he’s not busy taking up a lot of space, which can happen in group dynamics,” says Brenda Miller Holmes, an artist and public arts consultant in Durham. 

The two met when Miller Holmes was organizing the Durham Civil Rights Mural Project in 2013. She knew right away that she wanted to include Williams and now considers him a friend. 

“He creates art that’s pushing against when it’s necessary. He also creates a lot of artwork that’s about beauty and culture and what you want to build and hope for the future,” she says. 

Even when he’s not working directly with students, Williams tries to educate through his art. 

“What I’ve been doing lately is trying to express how Black people live, how they have fun, and I do that to combat some of these stereotypical thoughts people have of people of color,” Williams says. 

He pulls up “An Unquiet Moment,” a recent piece of a Black man sitting solemnly with a french horn. Yellow flowers sit in a vase on a vanity, and light shines through the room from an unseen window. 

Another piece he shares shows Miles Davis trumpetting on a bright day. He is a collage of a french railway map in a landscape of watercolor. On his face is joy and from his horn there is music. 

“Some kid may see that and wonder who that is, what’s that about and they may not have known the struggles or the things people before us went through to get to that position,” he says. 

In a different painting, an operating table is center stage and a Black operating staff is working to finish a procedure. The image is stark with dark colors save the contrasts of white uniforms; the team is solemn and focused under their masks. Behind them is a small window. Outside, the sun shines.

“I don’t think of him as an activist, he’s more of a reporter, and he uses his art to do it,” says Bigelow, the Hayti museum curator. “He uses his art to relate what he sees is happening around the community. He’s like a newscaster: here’s what I see, here it is.”

Williams wants his next project to highlight the Tuskegee Airmen, but he is early in the research, not yet sure how it will take shape. He also is keeping in mind a large basket of vegetables his neighbor brought over recently. He was stunned by the beauty of the vegetables and photographed them so he could paint them later. 

“I want to tell a story of all the positive things my people have done, that’s one way of defunking the socialization of a people,” Williams says. “Knowledge is king, knowing your history is king.” 

Above photo of Wade Williams by Henry Haggart, The 9th Street Journal

Renovated Durham main library closer to reopening, but no date set yet

After more than three years of renovations, Durham Main Library was slated to reopen in April. 

But the coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench in those plans, and now a library official says it’s still uncertain when the library will be open to the public again.

Library director Tammy Baggett said construction is complete. However, not all of the library’s technology was connected before the malware attack in March affected Durham city and county operations just as COVID-19 spread in the U.S. The library still needs to set up computers and other equipment in accordance with social distancing guidelines, she added.

This renovation has been years in the making, and many people are anxiously awaiting for the doors to open. Though she does not directly work on any library boards, Durham Board of County Commissioners Chair Wendy Jacobs said it is vital the library reopens by the time schools start up virtually in August and resume in-person classes in October.

“The libraries are going to be very important resources for our families, for students and families to study and work,” she said. “The Main Library, all the libraries, will be a very big part of prioritizing our kids and education.”

Baggett wouldn’t release any specific details about reopening plans, but said she is eager for it to happen — with social distancing rules in place, of course. 

“Once we get to a point of opening, it will be with what is always done,” Baggett said. “Anyone is allowed in the library. We are the great equalizer. Everyone is always available through our doors.”

Libraries are hubs for the Durham community. They bring in thousands of people every day, including those seeking books, internet access and shelter.

People drop off books at a Durham library. Photo by Henry Haggart

According to the library system website, 15% of Durham households do not have access to the internet and under 40% have access to a broadband connection. Just over a quarter of library computer users have searched for, applied for or secured a job using library resources.  

Durham libraries are also some of the few places in the city that offer programs and resources to community members free of charge. For those experiencing homelessness, libraries can be a place of refuge during extreme weather events or during the day when they need bathrooms or computers. 

According to Durham County’s website, the original building was too small to accommodate the city’s growing population and technological needs. In November 2016, a bond referendum passed to fund a major expansion and renovation of the 40-year old library, and it closed two months later. The renovated building — which cost the city $44 million — is nearly 20,000 square feet larger

Baggett said work is still ongoing throughout the county’s libraries to get them ready for visitors. County libraries are closed to the public except for book pick-ups, but offer many free online services like virtual story readings, book clubs, and games over Zoom. 

For now, employees are answering patron questions through an online service called LibChat and members can check out items like books and DVDs without going inside.  

Durham Main Library is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for book drop-offs Monday through Friday. Baggett said all books are placed into 72-hour quarantine when returned and then individually cleaned. 

“We are just making sure when we do open, the environment is as safe as possible, for community and staff,” Baggett said. “Safety is priority one.”

9th Street Journal Reporter Veronica Niamba can be reached at veronica.niamba@duke.edu

Top photo: Durham library signs during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Henry Haggart. 

The Bull Durham house, then and now

From the outside, the Bull Durham house at 911 N. Mangum St. looks pretty much the same as it did in the famous 1988 baseball film. The windows are big and a mix of styles, typical of the home’s Queen Anne architecture. A swing still hangs on the front porch. 

But inside, there is barely a trace of the erratically wallpapered, chaotically cluttered home where Annie Savoy, played with passion and wisdom by Susan Sarandon, seduced a series of Bulls players, most notably Ebby “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) and Crash Davis (Kevin Costner). Today, the home is transformed into an embodiment of southern minimalism. 

The garish wallpaper is gone (understandably) and the walls now display a spectrum of muted pastels. Instead of Annie’s large collection of candles, the home is filled with natural light. It is very southern chic, with plenty of open space, simple colors, and vintage-esque furnishings. 

We know these details because the sale of the house is pending (asking price: $1.15 million) and, when it was on the market, it even had its own website, thebulldurhamhouse.com, complete with a virtual tour. Stroll through the house (virtually or in person) and you won’t see many signs of Annie or Crash or Nuke – except for the tub.

“For me, the scene I’ll never forget was the infamous bathtub scene with Annie and Crash,” says Jarin Frederick, the real estate agent selling the home for Urban Durham Realty.

“The clawfoot tub is still in the home today!” says Frederick, referring to the location of one of the most famous moments in the film. The tub scene is all kinds of steamy, with Costner and Sarandon finally consummating their love affair surrounded by dozens of burning candles. They share passionate kisses and the camera pans away as the water splashes out the candles’ flames. 

Is the tub now in a different room? It seemed larger in the film, but maybe that’s an optical illusion.  But if you’ve got $1.15 million, who cares? You can recreate this moment of movie magic, even if you have a bit less space for candles. 

Even before it was on the big screen, the house, built in 1880, carried an air of celebrity. It has been granted historical status both locally and nationally as the “James S. Manning House.” 

Manning was a reputable Durhamite, first as an attorney and judge, later a state senator and eventually as the North Carolina’s attorney general. He remained in the home until 1912 when he resettled in Raleigh. After the Mannings relocated, the house changed families a few times until it eventually became vacant. 

The garish wallpaper is gone and the home is now filled with natural light. Photo by Taylor McDonald, courtesy of Urban Durham Realty

That’s how it stood in 1986, when Ron Shelton, a director, screenwriter, and former minor league infielder, saw the house while scouting locations for the film that would eventually become Bull Durham. Shelton has said in interviews that the filmmakers chose Durham because of its minor league team and its skyline of dilapidated tobacco warehouses, which complement the romantic allusions of the movie. 

But Bull Durham wasn’t entirely shot in Durham. A batting cage scene was filmed in Garner at what is now a mini-golf course; the bar where Nuke and Crash first meet is in Raleigh; and the baseball diamond where LaLoosh is interviewed about pitching in “the show” was in Arlington, Texas.

The Manning house, though, is less than a mile from the Durham Bulls stadium where the team played in the 1980s and where much of the film was made.

What a difference 30 years (and a little decorating) can make. When Annie lived there, the house was decorated with a seemingly endless collection of tchotchkes: buddhas, goddesses in various forms, and baseball memorabilia. Each room had its own statement wallpaper (usually floral) and the whole place was candlelit by night and sunlit by day. 

In a desperate attempt to seduce Nuke during what he thought to be a celibacy-induced winning streak, Annie shouts that she detests cute – she wants to be “exotic and mysterious.” That describes her home, too, a workshop for her new age mysticism.

Today, the home is spacious with four bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms, a front and back porch as well as an office, family room and living room. In the film, the house was painted a fading mint color. Now, it’s a slate gray, the classic mismatched windows accented with a bright red like the stitches of a baseball. It’s so nice it looks like it’s been on the cover of Southern Living.

Frederick says the owners have taken good care of it. “When you walk through the home you are immediately aware of the love and commitment the  homeowners made the last 13 years in preserving this historic Durham treasure,” she says. 

The website highlights a laundry list of restorations and updates since 2007. These range from lighting fixture updates to larger renovations, like the addition of a garage and workspace in the backyard and the refurbishment of the front porch where Crash awaited Annie’s return from the ballpark in the film’s last scene.  

Annie joins him on the porch, and the two sit under cover as rain comes down around them. She rambles about the non-linearity of baseball and Crash kindly tells her to shut up. Eventually the two move inside. Much is left unsaid as they dance in front of Annie’s shrine to the religion of baseball. 

Staff writer Carmela Guaglianone can be reached at carmela.guaglianone@duke.edu

At top, photo of the Bull Durham house by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal

From gin to clean hands: how a Durham distillery adapted to the pandemic

A few months ago, Durham’s Mystic Farm & Distillery decided to expand beyond its well-known line of gin and bourbon liqueur and make a completely new product: hand sanitizer.

When Jonathan Blitz’s partner Michael Sinclair first came to him with the idea, Blitz thought it would be a distraction to their whiskey production. Now, he is glad he went along. “It’s turned out to be an absolutely enormous business… it’s given us a new lifeline.”

Mystic has been distilling gin, whiskey bourbon, and bourbon liqueur since 2013, and added sanitizer at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. At first, the company sold to individuals, with so much demand that it backed up traffic down the street.  

“It was awesome,” said Sinclair.

The business has now shifted from individuals to larger contracts, including one from Duke University. 

Duke needed a dependable supplier after experiencing backorders with its usual vendors. “We had to find a plan B,” said John Noonan, Duke’s vice president of facilities. 

Mystic turned out to be that plan B. The company said it could meet Duke’s huge demand.

That demand has gone up because the number of hand sanitizers on campus has increased from 1,000 to about 1,700 to accommodate the return of students to campus. “When you get thousands of students and faculty who are taking four or more shots of hand sanitizer a day, it adds up,” Noonan said. 

Duke also is taking steps to ensure the sanitizing stations are environmentally friendly – refilling the bottles instead of replacing them.

What do the processes of making hand sanitizer and alcohol have in common? Not much. But the equipment to produce it is similar, which is why Mystic and other distilleries have gotten in the business. 

The equipment Mystic uses was bought from a pharmaceutical plant auction and then adapted to distill alcohol. This same equipment has now come full circle, being used to make medical-grade hand sanitizer.

You might think that alcohol from the whiskey and gin might somehow be used in the hand sanitizer. But they are different products. It is more efficient to buy the base alcohol in bulk for the sanitizer. 

Blitz says, “One of the reasons we’ve been able to get contracts from the large academic medical centers is that we are producing a high quality product and keeping that quality high. It’s not cheap or easy, but it has to be done.”

Blitz predicts they’ll be making the new product for a long time. “This generation for the next 15 to 20 years is going to use a lot of hand sanitizer.” Mystic is continuing to look at expansion options into over the counter drug opportunities now that they have the ingredients and equipment.

Blitz says hand sanitizer now outsells their spirits, but what matters is that the company is thriving. “We’ve been able to keep all our employees, which is what success means to me.”

Staff writer Dryden Quigley can be reached at dryden.quigley@duke.edu

In photo above: Mystic now sells hand sanitizer in a variety of sizes. Photo by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal

“You have to let go,” says TROSA founder Kevin McDonald as he steps aside

When Kevin McDonald woke up the morning after his first round of electroshock therapy, he couldn’t remember how to make coffee. He used to drink it every morning – strong with some cream. That Saturday he stopped. 

But the shock therapy continued, and so did his memory lapses. Scrolling through Facebook, he found himself staring at unfamiliar names and faces. And when he drove into the complex of TROSA, the Durham organization he founded 26 years ago, he couldn’t remember the security guard’s name. 

Eventually, McDonald, who served as the President and CEO of TROSA since its inception, decided he had a choice to make: hold on to the organization, or allow someone more capable to take over.   

In the decades since McDonald started TROSA (the Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers) with $18,000, an abandoned school building and a four-burner stove, the organization has helped hundreds of people recover from substance abuse and become a cornerstone of the Durham community. TROSA moving vans help Durhamites schlep their stuff to new homes, TROSA yard crews keep lawns trim and TROSA cleaning crews prepare Cameron Indoor Stadium before almost every Duke basketball game. 

But after 26 years running the organization, McDonald knew he needed to hand over the reins. On July 1, he stepped aside to a role as “founder” as Keith Artin, the organization’s longtime chief operating officer, became president and CEO.  

“I just knew in my heart of hearts that you have to let go,” McDonald said.  

***

When I called McDonald over Zoom recently, he appeared on my screen wearing a white button-down shirt that matched his large white beard. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, McDonald, who is 72 and has trouble breathing, has worked from home. Despite the isolation, he’s enjoying life. 

“I’m drinking Coca-Cola instead of Diet Coke,” he chuckled. “I’m splurging, man.” 

McDonald is no stranger to letting go. Because his dad was an officer in the Air Force, McDonald never got to settle down. He was born in Winthrop, Massachusetts, but he grew up across the South – Alabama, Louisiana, Virginia and Florida. 

As a Yankee with a Boston accent, McDonald struggled to fit in, and developed feelings of shyness and social anxiety. His mother was also physically and emotionally abusive, he said. 

In 1959, when McDonald was 12, his family moved to Germany, where his father served as commander at an air base. His anxiety and lack of confidence continued to fester. 

He escaped with alcohol, frequenting local bars as a young teenager. “I wasn’t shy there, after I had some drinks,” he said. By the time he left Germany in 1963, alcohol had become a major problem in his life, he said. 

The family moved to California, and he started partying and drinking more. Eventually, his drinking problem became so severe that his dad delivered an ultimatum. “My way or the highway,” his father told him. McDonald took the highway. He was 17. 

After high school, he enlisted in the Air National Guard, in the hope of making it into the Air Force Academy. He started carting drugs from Northern California to Los Angeles, but wore a short-haired wig during his military training so he’d look clean-cut. 

McDonald didn’t make the Academy and then started snorting heroin, which spiraled into more trouble. Soon he was robbing pharmacies to get drugs. But he got caught twice in three months. The first time, he was bailed out; the second time, he received a sentence of 20 years in prison. (A defense lawyer found a way to reduce that to three months.) 

Instead of spending years in prison, 32-year-old McDonald headed to Delancey Street, a substance recovery program that would become the model for TROSA. At Delancey, McDonald began to learn how to care for other people, and—even more difficult—to accept other people’s care for himself.  

“The hardest thing for me was to receive, to let people care about me, get close to me. That started happening too,” he said during an interview with Frank Stasio on “The State of Things.” 

During his 12 years of working at Delancey, McDonald visited Greensboro, North Carolina to help set up a substance recovery facility. There, he met many of the people who would later invite him to set up a similar program in Durham. 

Inspired by his own treatment, McDonald decided to start one when he moved to Durham. He told his wife Sue about his plans during their wedding dance. 

TROSA soon took off, earning large donations from the Chamber of Commerce and support from the community, including volunteer work from a Duke fraternity. Combining work-based training, counseling and education, the program helped hundreds of residents recover from substance abuse problems. TROSA’s lawn care, thrift store and moving company have each won readers’ awards from Indy Week. 

Even as the program grew into a big success, McDonald kept his eye on the day when he would have to move on. 

“It’s what’s important for the organization, not the founder, not individuals in the organization, and I really believe in that,” he said during his 2015 interview on “The State of Things.”   

***

Roughly the same time as that interview, McDonald began experiencing more severe bouts of depression, which had been a chronic problem. He had more trouble finishing tasks and getting out of bed. People who knew him well could tell that he was a little colder, a little harder.  

He went to a psychiatrist, who eventually recommended that he undergo electroshock therapy.

He ended up going through 19 rounds of the therapy before deciding to stop. He says the treatment left major gaps in his memory. He once had a knack for remembering names and faces. Now, when TROSA residents greeted him, he would have to say, “Hi, what’s your name?” – and he felt terrible about it. He used to be able to give speeches from memory, but now he had to write them down. 

Around that time, McDonald was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a brain disorder that can lead to physical decline and short-term memory loss.  

“It was scary,” he said. “It was like, I went inside myself. And, how am I going to adapt to this one? How am I going to beat this?” 

But as the memory lapses continued, McDonald realized that some things in life can’t be overcome – only endured. He decided it was time to step down at TROSA.

“Nobody realized but me where it was,” he said. “And so I just said, ‘July, I’m out.’ And it was the right thing to do.” 

McDonald’s voice cracks when he talks about the support he got from his staff, particularly after he announced he was stepping down. 

“I just was so emotionally blown away by people caring so much. I’ve cared a lot of about people in my life, and I’ve given everything I got for a lot of years, but I don’t expect people caring about me.” 

Does he regret stepping down? 

“Oh no,” he said. “I worked hard, man.” 

Actually, he’s quite happy. A person he trusts is in charge, and, as founder, he can still be involved. 

“I’m ain’t laying down, and I’m gonna help people.”

Of course, he’s had to adapt to his new role. With Artin in charge, he’s learning to follow orders instead of giving them.

“I don’t need to be a general,” he said. “Rank? I’m past rank. I’m Kevin.” 

9th Street Journal reporter Chris Kuo can be reached christopher.kuo@duke.edu

In photo at top: Kevin McDonald in his home. He now splurges and has a real Coca-Cola. Photo by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal

Low-wage, essential workers strike for economic and racial justice

On Monday afternoon, in the sweltering heat, hundreds of people — many of them low-wage and frontline workers during the pandemic — gathered in front of the McDonald’s on West Morgan Street in Durham as part of the “Strike for Black Lives.” 

An organizer of the protest speaks to the crowd gathered in front of the McDonald’s. Photo by Henry Haggart

The event was organized by the group NC Raise Up, which is connected with the national organization Fight for $15 that advocates for living wages, workers’ unions and workers’ rights. It was one of a series of demonstrations in over two dozen cities across the nation on July 20.

Members of the drum line kneel during a moment of silence held in remembrance of George Floyd. Photo by Henry Haggart
Organizer Tonya Marsh leading chants among demonstrators in front of the Morgan St. McDonald’s. Photo by Henry Haggart

The workers demanded the minimum wage be raised to $15 an hour and asked for hazard pay and better protective equipment during COVID-19 pandemic. Speakers said they wanted employers of essential workers during the pandemic to commit to economic and racial justice.

Hasan Wilson Jr. hangs a sign from the bull statue in downtown Durham. Photo by Henry Haggart
Durham native Crispin Whittier prepares a hydration solution for a dehydrated attendee of the strike. Photo by Henry Haggart

A new street mural reading “STRIKE FOR BLACK LIVES” in large red letters was painted at the intersection of Morgan Street and Rigsbee Avenue before the strike. The  mural is not the first to show up on the roads of Durham or other cities. It’s part of a nationwide trend in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following weeks-long protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and the killing of Breonna Taylor by Louisville, Kentucky police. 

Protesters scattered across the new street mural, maintaining safe distance from one another.

9th Street Journal photographer Henry Haggart can be reached at henry.haggart@duke.edu.

Sign up for The 9th, our weekly newsletter

Today we launched The 9th, a newsletter that will showcase the great stories and photos in The 9th Street Journal.

Compiled by Duke senior Dryden Quigley, The 9th is a sharp-looking digest of the week’s news in Durham. Every week it will provide convenient summaries and links to articles written by 9th Street Journal reporters.

We hope you’ll click through to see the stories and photographs by our student journalists. (Every edition will have a Photo of the Week that does not appear on our website.) But if you’re in a hurry, The 9th is a convenient way to get a quick overview of what’s happening in Bull City.

You can sign up for the newsletter here (and unsubscribe any time).

Pandemic litter? It’s here

If you’ve walked down almost any well-traveled street in Durham during the last four months, you’ve likely seen wadded up masks or disposable gloves along with typical roadside litter like candy wrappers and soda bottles. 

The coronavirus pandemic has brought environmental benefits such as reductions in air pollution, carbon emissions and environmental degradation. But littering, with pandemic-linked waste in the mix, has increased.

Across the country, cities have reported higher rates of discarded personal protective equipment like gloves and masks, or PPE, along roads, in parking lots, by bus stops and in waterways. 

“We’re really trying to discourage people from doing that because it’s not fair to whoever needs to come along and pick it up afterwards,” said Tania Dautlick, executive director of Keep Durham Beautiful.

In addition to PPE litter, Durham has seen an uptick in all types of trash tossed where it should not go. The city collected 30 tons of litter a month since the pandemic started — four tons more than average, said Phillip Powell Sr., assistant director for Durham’s Department of Public Works Operations and Street Maintenance Division. 

People concerned about litter have observed an increase in illegal dumping of household goods and other trash too, according to Dautlick, whose nonprofit group has organized volunteer cleanups of public and private land across the City of Durham and Durham County for decades. 

In March, the city’s Waste Disposal and Recycling Center closed to the public, restricting trash and recycling services to curbside pick-up. Residents have been disposing of more items, sometimes leaving trash along roadsides or in the woods. 

“People have likely had some extra time to clean up their homes and clean out, and they’ve been looking for a way to get rid of things,” Powell said. 

Keeping up with this has proven difficult. In the earlier months of the pandemic, Powell said. That is because operations were scaled back. Employees only cleaned up bus stops, city streets, curbsides and sidewalks along the over 3,000 streets that Public Works maintains when essential. 

Keep Durham Beautiful volunteers took a break, too. The nonprofit, which helped mobilize 3,290 cleanup volunteers last year, only recently started handing out its pickup kits again, which contain protective gloves, neon vests and trash bags. 

“We had stopped for a little while because we just wanted to support everybody staying home,” said Dautlick. “We also weren’t sure what sort of exposure people could have from litter because we were still learning more about how long the virus lasts on surfaces.”

Keep Durham Beautiful is encouraging residents via social media, bi-weekly newsletters, and their website to get out and collect litter on their own.

For the environmentally conscious, cleaning up litter on roads or trails is a habit. But uncertainties about the new coronavirus pandemic brought a degree of fear to that practice. 

Today guidance from public health organizations, including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, says SARS-CoV-2 spreads most easily from person to person rather than from contaminated surfaces. But the true risks that objects and surfaces pose were not clear at the start of the pandemic.

Luckily research suggests that the virus does not last long in direct sunlight, a fact that quelled some of Keep Durham Beautiful’s members’ fears around picking up roadside litter, Dautlick said.

Still, Dautlick encourages volunteers picking up other people’s trash to “handle it as little as possible, to wear gloves and put it straight into a trash bag, and then don’t sort through it.” 

Her organization also urges social distancing and volunteer outings close to home. “We are having a lot of family groups or small friend groups or neighbors going out, up and down their street, but staying socially distant,” she said. 

Powell and Dautlick are hopeful that the amount of litter, PPE and illegal dumping will decrease again as more Durham businesses open back up. As people return to work, they will spend less time at home cleaning. And as recycling and trash services get back to normal, litter hauls should return to pre-COVID-19 numbers, they said.

“My hope, certainly, is that people continue to become more aware of the negative impacts of littering and begin to reduce,” Dautlick said.

9th Street reporter Cameron Oglesby can be reached at cameron.oglesby@duke.edu

At top: A discarded mask on the ground not far from Duke Health’s coronavirus drive-up testing site off Erwin Road. Photo by Henry Haggart

COVID-19 by the numbers in Durham

Reporting by Chris Kuo, graphics by Henry Haggart

COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the nation, including in North Carolina. As of July 11, 83,793 cases and 1,499 deaths have been confirmed in this state. Drawing on Durham County and North Carolina data, The 9th Street Journal created a snapshot of the outbreak in Durham today.

Durham is the sixth most populated county in North Carolina, but it has the highest number of cases per 10,000 people among counties with the most residents. A large COVID-19 outbreak at a federal prison complex in Butner, part of which sits in northern Durham County, contributes to Durham’s rate. Graphic by Henry Haggart

The impact of the coronavirus on racial and ethnic groups is evolving but has hit three groups hardest in Durham. When Mayor Steve Schewel first instituted a stay-at-home order in March, white residents made up the largest percentage of coronavirus cases. In April, it was Black residents. By June, the percentage of white and Black residents had fallen, while the percentages of new cases among Latinx residents had skyrocketed. Graphic by Henry Haggart

Nursing homes and other residential care facilities are linked to a small fraction of COVID-19 cases in Durham County and across the state. But they account for the majority of COVID-19 related deaths. In Durham, the contrast is even more striking: over 73% of COVID-19 deaths in Durham are linked to nursing homes and residential care facilities such as adult care homes. Graphic by Henry Haggart

Age disparity: In Durham and statewide, people younger than 50 make up the majority of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Yet 95.5% of people who have died so far were age 50 or older. Graphics by Henry Haggart

9th Street Journal reporter Chris Kuo can be reached at christopher.kuo@duke.edu 

Lacking fans and players, Durham Bulls could not play ball

During a normal Fourth of July week in Durham, thousands of locals and out-of-town guests would stream to Durham Bulls Athletic Park to watch a ballgame and a fireworks show.

This holiday, there will be no game, no sparkles in the sky.

Minor League Baseball on Tuesday cancelled the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The decision was widely expected, but the official news was unprecedented in the league’s history.

“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without minor-league baseball played,” MiLB President & CEO Pat O’Conner said in the press release. 

There were many factors that played a role in this decision, a big one being that Major League Baseball announced that big-league teams would not send players to affiliated minor league teams this summer, making play impossible.

The clincher was the fact that minor league teams across the country cannot welcome crowds into their stadiums in the midst of a pandemic. And teams can’t stay afloat without the money fans bring. 

Back on May 19, the Durham Bulls — the Triple A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays —  held a town hall meeting for its season ticket holders, 919 Club members. Team Vice President Mike Birling made it clear then that to have a season, fans were required. 

The MLB makes money from television revenue, but O’Conner estimated that 85 to 90% of revenue for minor league teams depends on what fans spend, from ticket sales to concession sales and parking.

The DBAP holds up to 10,000 fans, but North Carolina — still in Phase 2 of reopening until at least July 17 — does not allow for outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people. 

Last year, the Bulls broke the record for their three-game home series attendance, welcoming 35,052 fans over the June 14-16 weekend. 

The cancellation of the Durham Bulls’ season is a huge loss for many, including local vendors that sell popsicles to hotdogs and beer at the ballpark, and the 400 seasonal workers on the Bulls’ payroll.

This week it was the fans who were loudest in their mourning. “Heartbroken that for the first time in more than two decades, I won’t be spending summer nights in this magical place. See you in 2021, @DurhamBulls,” fan Mike Sundheim posted on Twitter.

Fans took to Twitter Tuesday to voice their sadness that the Durham Bulls, like other Minor League Baseball teams, won’t play this summer.

“It doesn’t even seem like summer if you do not get to sit in the heat and humidity in July for Bulls’ baseball. Better safe than sorry,” Ron Martin tweeted. 

The organization had furloughed 55% of its staff back in April, hoping to bring them back in September or early October. Birling said Wednesday morning that he does not anticipate having to furlough any more employees.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the cancellation of the minor league season has also put more than 5,000 players officially out of work for the season. But at least some Bulls’ players will be on baseball teams this summer because MLB teams were allowed to increase their rosters this summer. 

The MLB is set to start training today, July 1, with games resuming later this month. The Rays’ 60-man roster had 31 former Bulls players, including 23 who were on the 2019 teams here in Durham.  

Players who didn’t make a big-league roster will continue to get paid, said Birling. As of right now, seven teams are committed to paying players through Labor Day, what would have been the end of the minor league season. Birling stated that the Rays are committed to paying through July 31.

“I can’t make decisions for the Rays but I would be surprised if they didn’t continue the trend that some of the other teams are doing,” said Birling, on paying MiLB players through the season. 

The last time the Durham Bulls cancelled play was in 1934-35 due to the Great Depression. Now the team enters a new era in history, with high hopes to be back on the mound as soon as next year.

But during an interview Wednesday, Biring made clear that he doesn’t expect next year’s season will be normal either.

“Do I anticipate having 10,000 people in the ballpark next April? No,” Birling said on a phone call Wednesday morning. “I think the virus will still limit us to some sort of percentage of capacity.”

9th Street Journal reporter Daniela Schneider can be reached at daniela.schneider@duke.edu

At top: Photos of Durham Bulls players will stand in for the real thing at Durham Bulls Athletic Park this summer. Photo by Henry Haggart